The curious case of Craig Kimbrel
It’s June, and MLB’s fastest player to ever record 300 career saves is team-less.
That’s right, ladies and gentleman. The same 31-year-old Craig Kimbrel with 333 career saves and the hilarious pitching stance is still a free agent.
It’s been over seven months since Kimbrel threw a pitch in the majors. In an age where MLB playoff teams often have two or three flame-throwers in their ‘pen, it might come as a shock to some that one of the premier game-finishers and his 868 strikeouts in 532.2 career innings is still available…or is it?
REASONS KIMBREL IS UNSIGNED
Kimbrel entered the offseason with some lofty demands, initially seeking a five year contract in the neighborhood of $100 million. Most teams felt that was an awfully steep price and commitment for a 31-year-old player who might play 60 innings in a season.
Another “knock” on Kimbrel, is that he’s had walk rates over 4.5 BB/9 in two of his last three seasons. Definitely a nit-picky stat since it’s recent, but it’s worth noting. Closers are meant to come in and shut the door, not give free bases and make life harder on a manager, a team, and the die hard fan screaming at the TV and breaking their third remote of the season when the closer walks the lead-off man yet again.
Over the past two seasons, MLB free agency has seen teams shy away from signing big time contracts early in the free agency period. The top four contracts given out in 2018 – Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer – all signed after February 10th. Three of those players not named Hosmer were also 30 years old while waiting for free agency. Too many teams have shelled out some baaaaad, massive contracts to players on the wrong side of 30 in the past 10 years, making me believe teams are letting the value fall on some of the best players in the game.
WHY HE’S A VALUE
At 31, Kimbrel still offers value as a closer, as he can still touch triple digits on the radar gun and has a nine year track record of success. It might take a few games for Kimbrel to get back into top form, but Kimbrel could provide a playoff team with a rested arm down the stretch. Rested arms down the stretch are a very, very valuable asset to have come playoff time.
Also, he’s never finished a season under 13.2 K/9, and his career average is 14.7. Aroldis Chapman’s career average is 14.9 K/9. Simply put, this guy does what closers do best: shut the door. Enough said.
There are many teams right now who could use Kimbrel, mostly being teams already shaping up to be playing in October. With that, let’s take a look at the contenders who might end up signing the valuable flame-throwing ginger.
Kimbrel would return to the team where he started his career, where he collected over half of his career saves (186). Atlanta (32-27) remains in the hunt in the NL East, just one game behind the Phillies as of June 2nd. The worst part? The Braves have blown 10 saves so far this year. Give them even half of those back and the Braves would be 37-22 with a four game lead over Philly.
The Cubs closer situation is in big trouble right now. The Cubs have blown 11 of 22 save chances this year, the worst percentage in baseball. Brandon Morrow was supposed to be closer, but he has yet to return from an injury sustained last season. Sign Kimbrel to close, get Morrow back to throw in the eighth, and the Cubs back-end of the bullpen becomes nasty. The Cubs (31-26) are slumping recently and moved to second place, but could be 40-17 had they converted nine of their 11 blown chances. Sorry to remind you, Cubs fans.
The AL Central first-place Twins are the hottest team in baseball, and seem to have all things working for them. A solid starting staff has allowed the bullpen to throw the second fewest innings thus far in MLB. By adding Kimbrel, the Twins would solidify themselves as contenders and give them an imposing arm with postseason experience for a playoff run. The Twins can’t afford to sleep on the high powered offenses of the Yankees and Astros.
Can you imagine a one-two punch of Kimbrel and Josh Hader at the end of a game? I can, and it would be absurd. With Corey Knebel out for the year and the Brewers bullpen having thrown the third-most innings so far, Kimbrel could step in and give the Brewers a stacked bullpen and fresh arm for the second half. Manager Craig Counsell showed in last year’s playoff run he’s not afraid to go to the ‘pen early. The more arms the merrier.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
The Dodgers seem to acquire some big name every year, and getting Kimbrel would not surprise me. Kimbrel could pair with Kenley Jansen to give the Dodgers the most imposing one-two bullpen punch in baseball. Jansen has only blown two saves this season, but the Dodgers have blown nine as a team. Acquiring Kimbrel would be nothing more than to separate themselves even further from the field and become favorites to make it to the World Series.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Tampa has an overused ‘pen, already with 262 innings thrown, second-most in MLB. If Tampa – currently 35-22 and just 2.5 games out of first – wants to stay within striking distance of the Yankees, getting Kimbrel to close out close games could be the difference. The Red Sox will likely be around come September, so Kimbrel could help the Rays widen the gap in the wild card race and stay ahead of Boston. Tampa is currently led by Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo with six saves each, so neither has run away with the job. Kimbrel would run away with the job. Quickly.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Why not? Probably the most unlikely to sign Kimbrel, but it is the Yankees after all. The Yanks haven’t been to the World Series since 2009 and are currently 38-20 in the AL East. Injuries have hampered the Yankees offensively, so they may be better than their record indicates. Kimbrel would give the Yankees the best bullpen in baseball with Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Tommy Kahnle. Signing Kimbrel would make the Yanks a very tough out in the playoffs and legit World Series contenders.
It’s only a matter of time before Kimbrel signs. Whoever ends up signing the ginger gun-slinger will be getting one of the top closers in the game and a game-changer, all without having to sacrifice any prospects or draft picks, thus ending the saga of the curious case of Craig Kimbrel.
PREDICTION: Chicago Cubs